Thursday, September 15, 2016

F*k College!

I have emailed the newspaper editor the following ...

In a presidential campaign season that has mostly been a farcical political theatre at best, and one that seems to be on track for a terribly tragic ending on November 8th, serious discussions of policies have been sorely lacking. Every once in a while, policy statements are uttered, but they are never engagingly discussed and debated by the wannabes nor their surrogates.

One of those statements was this: “College is crucial, but a four-year degree should not be the only path to a good job.”

If only we had at least talked about that!

Over the past few years, the country’s political leaders and educators alike have been manically promoting—practically mandating—four years of college, for free, for everybody. But why this college conscription?

For productive employment, a four-year college is certainly not the only pathway. As my neighbors often like to remind me, their successful small business is not a product of any four-year degree. Among the owners and the employees, only one has a four-year degree. And, most employees earn more than what many recent college diploma holders can only dream of.

Perhaps the spectacular entertainment provided by NCAA football and basketball is what draws most to college. If the taxpayer-subsidized NCAA sports did not exist, most teens would flee from college, and from courses like the ones I teach, and towards the trades.

Even the very notion of a four-year college is an anachronism. More than ever before, the young will have to be lifelong learners if they want to succeed in the world of employment. They might have to regularly reinvent themselves in new careers, some of which are yet to be created. They will have to keep up with new ideas and technology—if they cannot do it on their own, then they will need formal training. This is applicable to those going to the trades as well.

The unhealthy fixation on four years of college triggers even more unhealthy policy approaches. We actively encourage high school students to begin to earn college credits even as they are worrying about their first pimples. We convey to students a horribly distorted idea that they need to be done with education at the earliest so that they can move on to the “real world.” We develop measures on how successful colleges are in moving students along in the pipeline—we critically examine the rates at which students graduate within four, five, or six years and longer.

I would rather have colleges and universities emphasizing to students the importance of lifelong learning. Taking six or seven years should be lauded, as long as students are simultaneously gaining valuable real world experiences. Perhaps we ought to even encourage the less interested students to take a break after a year or two in college, in order to experience the world—whether it is as baristas or as legal-aides or as farm workers—and then return to learn more, which will be an example of the continuous lifelong education that will characterize their lives.

We need to talk about this, instead of merely keeping up with the latest dramatic act in the political theatre.


Ramesh said...

Familiar terrain.

I will repeat my oft articulated view that many are better off to return to college after a decade or so of working. Or perhaps do one career for 20 years, come back to college and embark on another for the next 20 years.

By the way, is one of your Presidential candidates even talking about the usefulness of college degrees ? Really ? The complete black hole that is sensible policy discussion is quite something.

Sriram Khé said...

What a terrible waste of a political effort, right? Instead of seriously engaging with policy ideas, the campaigns have been about all things bizarre. Oh well ...

IP-MD said...

Agree that it is crazy to emphasize college as the route to a good job. According to this article:

...only about 1/3rd of Americans have the ability to graduate from college. So what about the remaining 2/3rds? Politicians should be thinking about policies that benefit all Americans, not just a small fraction.

Sriram Khé said...

What? Politicians basing their rhetoric on facts? Are pigs flying? ;)
Ok, seriously though, given that most politicians are college grads (remember the brouhaha over Scott Walker?) and many of them have higher degrees as well (lots of lawyers) politicians of all stripes invariably blindly talk-up college. Some more than others. Many liberals go one step more: they talk condescendingly about those who didn't get a college diploma. Which is we can't even begin to explore other models like the German apprenticeship ...
Anyway, between Tweedledum and Tweeedledee, and the college educators who know well that their jobs and income depend on talking up college, well, who cares for the real issues, eh!

Mike Hoth said...

Four years of college? What's this number everybody keeps throwing around, and where do they get it? Most young graduates I've talked to took at least five years to get their degrees, and that's not counting those of us who took some time off to discover ourselves. Teachers have it worse with the mandatory one-year program added onto their education. It's a lot of time to throw away only because people have declared it a requirement.

Sriram Khé said...

I tell ya, people do not want to question the arbitrariness of anything.
Why should college be a four year program? Maybe it is because high school is a four year program?
What should people study in college is arbitrarily decided. For instance, even at my (our) university, students can graduate without ever having taken a single course in physics all the eight-plus years of high school and college. Is that ok? Why is that ok? Does this also contribute to the scientific illiteracy that abounds?
Yet, practically every student I know has taken some kind of a dance class, which is typically an easy A as well unless the student consistently misses classes because of a fondness for sleeping. I have nothing against dance per se; this is an example of the arbitrariness in education.

But, college degree for everybody, declare the overlords!!! ;)

Sriram Khé said...

The Economist says many of the things that I have been saying for years, including in this post.
If it interests you:

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